Small-time

Hannah Booth tried out prototypes of office products from the latest Helen Hamlyn Research Centre project, but the experience wasn’t all roses

Offices are not designed to be homely and relaxing. If they were, we would live in them and never get any work done. But most could be considerably improved with better-designed work spaces, more greenery, increased storage space and, if the Royal College of Art is to be believed, beds and cafés.

The sad state of modern offices is the catalyst for the latest project to emerge from the RCA’s Helen Hamlyn Research Centre, which addresses the needs of the ‘sedentary office worker’.

HHRC research associate Pascal Anson has teamed up with Swedish furniture manufacturer Kinnarps to create a suite of mini office furniture to sit alongside your desk: a mini café, two mini desks, a mini bed, a mini garden and a mini store.

These are designed to make life at work more pleasurable. According to Anson, ‘Lots of energy goes into designing products for mobile office workers, but the reality is that most of us work at a desk in an office.’

The evocative ‘mini’ product names conjure up false images of what is, in fact, a mix-and-match collection of roughly hewn, gun metal-coloured prototypes.

The mini café was not, as foolishly expected, a fully-functioning eaterie with food, drink, music and waitress service, but a wobbly thigh-high table. The round metal top revolved like a stool in a photo-booth, but to no effect. It is designed to rest drinks on, but surely desks serve this purpose, too, and it just got in the way.

I was more excited with the prospect of road-testing the mini bed, but, again, the reality fell short of my expectations. It is a curved piece of wood about half a metre long with a stand and a plastic covering incorporating a small cushion on which to rest your head. It works best if you place it on your desk directly in front of you – after clearing a space – and stretch out, but if you want a subtle bit of shut eye, forget it. You’re better off hiding behind a newspaper.

The extra storage space was welcome and fitted (fairly) neatly under the desk. But extra room to file mess invariably means more mess is generated. It’s like getting rid of piles of washing up by buying more plates.

The best piece in the range is the mini garden. Although little more than a glorified window box, it is the only object that brightens up the office. Greenery is well known for having positive psychological powers, and the red and white cyclamens had a soothing effect. They even came complete with a bottle of mineral water with which to water them.

The thinking behind the ‘mini’ collection is highly laudable but the pieces are not really designed to work together and the full range is too big and unwieldy for one ‘workstation’.

The ball is now in Kinnarps’ court, says Anson. The prototypes could become a reality if successful. But it surely doesn’t take a design genius to realise that a plant brightens up an office and that, well, beds are for bedrooms.

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