One of the attractions of last week’s Vienna Design Week was the launch of Bene’s Parcs collection. The Belgian office furniture company’s bid to humanise the office marks a significant shift from the desks, storage and seating for which it is known. For London design group Pearson Lloyd, it embodies lengthy research into what Tom Lloyd describes as ‘complex environments’.
Lloyd and his partner Luke Pearson have created contract furniture ranges before, notably for Walter Knoll, which has undergone a rejuvenation through design over the past few years. But the Bene project takes the group deeper into the psychology of the workplace, meeting workers’ needs for privacy on the one hand and community on the other in increasingly open-plan environments.
The Parcs collection consists of three ‘meeting environments’ created through furniture. Causeway can be configured to establish a ‘landscape’ for formal or informal get-togethers; Toguna, taking its name from the elders’ meeting place at Dogon in Mali, is a low walk-in unit ‘like a car’; and Wing is a wing chair that absorbs sound in the padding to become a telephone booth.
For Pearson Lloyd, Parcs is another piece in a jigsaw that crosses boundaries. The London consultancy has a track record for ground-breaking products that bring the tough end of industrial design together with furniture. While its street furniture for Westminster City Council lies towards the product design end of the scale and its ranges for Walter Knoll firmly in furniture, the group’s portfolio increasingly features crossovers. The much-feted first-class airline seat for Virgin Atlantic, for example, blends the two disciplines admirably, as do the consultancy’s patient chair and commode, created with manufacturer Kirton Healthcare as part of the Government-backed Design Bugs Out initiative orchestrated by the Design Council with the Department of Health.
The consultancy designed a showroom for office furniture giant Steelcase last year ‘with a lot of interactive technology embedded into the architecture’. There has been structural packaging – notably prototypes for The Body Shop – and wayfinding systems for clients such as London’s Westfield shopping centre and local councils in Sheffield and Bath.
The crossover between disciplines and public/private sectors is a natural for Pearson and Lloyd. ‘We have an overriding sense that it should be pluralist, like the Italians,’ says Pearson of the approach. ‘In the UK, designers tend to be funnelled one way or the other because of the way they are taught.’
Lloyd similarly describes the work as ‘on a bandwidth from fine art to kettles’, adding that ‘managing complexity is what we enjoy’.
‘Crossovers are getting more important,’ adds Pearson, who highlights a ‘maturing’ expertise in understanding the user’s experience and sustainability in the broadest sense. ‘Lifecycle analysis is more and more important to everything we do,’ he says. ‘We’re becoming more intelligent and raising the bar across all the areas we work in.’
Lloyd, who studied furniture at Nottingham, says it was ‘youthful impatience’ that led him and Pearson, an industrial design graduate from Central St Martins College of Art and Design, to set up in January 1997. Ironically, both had shifted to the other’s discipline when they got to the Royal College of Art, and had gone their separate ways for four years – Pearson to work with Ross Lovegrove and Lloyd to join Daniel Weil at Pentagram – but they came back together ‘at the right moment’ as they attained seniority in their respective studios.
Involvement at the front end is still vital to Pearson and Lloyd on projects that can last four or five years. They work closely with the studio of ten – made up largely of industrial designers, but with one architect – and there is no house style, they maintain. ‘Each project ought to have the stamp of the brand, not Pearson Lloyd,’ says Lloyd.
We can expect the diversity to continue at Pearson Lloyd, but not for its founders to let go. ‘If we get bigger than ten people, Luke and I won’t be doing the work,’ says Lloyd. And that to them is unthinkable.