Furniture is the key to new ways of working

Are you sitting comfortably? If not, there’s no excuse, given the number of new chairs launched each year on to the market. And with the office furniture industry’s biennial showcase – Cologne’s Orgatec trade show – upon us again, another consignment is set to hit the market (see preview, page 18).

We don’t take furniture quite as seriously in Britain as, say, the Germans or Italians, who change their interiors as frequently as we might our wardrobe. Maybe you can’t reinvent the chair as often as manufacturers might hope to, but graphic designers who moan when we feature furniture in Design Week miss the point that, though they aren’t specifiers of the stuff, they are potential users.

There are several issues in furniture design that affect the whole of the design industry. The popularity of young British designers with Continental manufacturers is, for example, creating a lucrative outlet for British talent. And the trail-blazing exploits of the likes of Jasper Morrison, Matthew Hilton and Ross Lovegrove are paying off for a new generation of designers.

Then there’s the debate about how we will work in the future. If, as we’re told, there will be more flexibility and home working, it will affect interior and communications design as well as furniture. And, with specialists like building design group DEGW offering office space-planning services akin to management consultancy, there could be a challenge to the identity specialists. DEGW looks at working practices within the client’s business and evolves an interiors strategy to promote change and new perceptions of the company. A new visual identity and communications strategy could easily become part of the package.

Design groups not involved in interiors or working for big corporate clients are, meanwhile, rethinking their own premises to accommodate new working practices. Some London consultancies, for example, have set aside spaces for particular clients. These are used for brainstorm sessions or merely as facilities for clients to use when they’re in town. The idea is to strengthen the bond.

Others have opened up their offices to help communication between consultancy staff. With teamwork key to projects these days, and maintaining consultancy hierarchies less of an issue, there’s a need to promote a culture of sharing. Nor are fees the only hurdle facing creative groups bent on collaborating. They also need to look at ways to work together.

Furniture isn’t the only consideration, but it’s a useful start. If you want to change the way you do things, you need to look at the props that might help.

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