Spotlight |Product Designer Report

For this year’s Spotlight we’ve handpicked a selection of leading product designers – each of whom has developed innovative and groundbreaking products for the workplace market. We’ve intentionally picked designers from both home and overseas, and asked them to tell us about their work, their philosophies and opinions on today’s market and beyond.

 

 

MartinBellandat

Martin Ballendat 

Company name:
DESIGN BALLENDAT. 

How is the continual change in workplace trends impacting on what you produce?
At the moment the three following important changes for the office are mostly influencing our products: a) The work in the office is moving from the classic workplace more and more to a softer, home-like meeting and regeneration area. b) The typical workplace has much higher ergonomic demands, especially the change between sitting and standing. c) Workplaces have to be more flexible to change, in order to pay tribute to the ever-changing teams. 

How do you become informed about the changes in workplace transformation?
I am a successful designer for offices for more than 30 years; my most beautiful experience is always to have direct contact to the CEO’s and leaders of a lot of important office brands and to be accepted by them as a dialogue partner. This insider dialogue is the best way of exchanging information. 

What is your biggest challenge as a business and why?
The biggest challenge for our studio is our engineering experience and engineering facilities. I believe that we have more than 1,000 sq m of the best equipped prototype and construction studios for furniture in Europe. This niche is responsible for our recent and future success. 

Has the uncertainty of Brexit affected your business (if so how)?
Brexit is an absolute shit for every international and cosmopolitan working UK company. Our German/Austrian design studio will be handicapped in the cooperation with clients from the UK in the case of a hard Brexit. By the way, at the moment we are working for clients in 15 countries around the world. 

Favourite product you’ve created in the last 12 months?
My most exciting office product of the last 12 months is the workplace LOOX – a tabletop bent in an innovative loop, enabling different height adjustments, with two work levels, both flexibly linked. 


Paul Kelley copy

Paul Kelley 

Company name:
Paul Kelley Ltd. 

How is the continual change in workplace trends impacting on what you produce?
I don’t really pay attention to current trends, but instead aim to produce work that will always be functional, easy to adapt and timeless. 

How do you become informed about the changes in workplace transformation?
I have a really good relationship with Bisley, who keep me up to date with workplace news; they are very forthright about how they see the future and how they wish to shape it, through the use of high quality manufacturing, good design and the use of technology. 

What is your biggest challenge as a business and why?
Apart from generating enough cash to keep it all going, I used to think that it was to come up with new designs/pieces all the time but, over the years, I feel that this is very media driven and we just don’t need endless new products. Now it’s much more focused on making those designs last forever, which means they have to adapt and grow as we do. I have no interest in bringing endless short-life products to the marketplace – instead the focus has to be on high quality, affordable design that lasts and lasts. 

Favourite product you’ve created in the last 12 months?
My latest launch is a collaboration with Bisley; BOB is a modular storage solution that keeps the core of the system the same but can be reconfigured when and where needed – be it now or 10-20 years down the line. Seeing him finally realised is really exciting. This Spring will see him come to market and we can’t wait to find out people’s reaction. 

Is the competitive nature of the market: more, less or about the same as 10 years ago?
I think it’s probably more competitive, but perhaps for the wrong reasons; people seem to be more interested in price than quality – and they should be of equal concerns. 

Marcy Ellwig

Marcy Ewing 

Company name:
Shaw Contract. 

How is the continual change in workplace trends impacting on what you produce? How do you become informed about the changes in workplace transformation?
We are always gathering input from our workplace customers. Our strategic accounts team leaders give us input as to how large global workplace companies are managing and utilising smaller workplace footprints, managing employees who are collaborating with different groups within each company – staff being more mobile within the workspace, for example. At Shaw Contract we also engage regularly with the large property companies to understand how they are fitting out spaces that attract workplace tenants. Our annual design awards competition also means we get to see each year how workplace design is evolving around the globe and last year we received 535 entries across all the categories, from 36 different countries. 

What is your biggest challenge as a business and why?
The biggest challenge is speed to market. In our visual, digital world you get to see what everybody is creating and our customers want to offer their clients something unique or different. So it is a fine balance between customers’ desires for new products, how quickly something can be created and then moving onto the next new product from a design perspective. We are offering a wider variety of flooring solutions as a result of this. 

When you are creating a new product, how much do you think about the specifier?
Gathering information is something we do all the time. Our design team travels and visits completed workplace projects to learn about/see how the design intent for each project works with the company culture/work environment. This helps us understand how people are working and influences how we can continually design purposeful flooring solutions to meet the changing workplace environments. 

How often do you talk to those specifiers?
You cannot just design something beautiful – it has to have meaning and purpose, in tandem with the finished flooring product. As a global company, we engage regularly with specifiers internationally to listen to and then discern what they really want. We then take that information and use it as an important ingredient for our ‘discover’ process in our design planning. In the UK we are also using this process, looking at technology needs and changes from a specifiers’ perspective too.

justuskolberg

Justus Kolberg

Company name:
Kolbergdesign. 

How is the continual change in workplace trends impacting on what you produce?
The diversification and specialisation of office spaces and public areas, in combination with the increasing expectation in wellbeing, generates a big challenge for companies in terms of their product range. This results directly in a very specified and varied development request. 

How do you become informed about the changes in workplace transformation?
Being informed is all about keeping yourself interested and curious but also alive in the jungle of information that comes from travelling, fairs, networking and social media. 

What is your biggest challenge as a business and why? 
The biggest challenge is to create success for the client. That means a new product has to fit in all different aspects. This is only possible by working very close together with the client from the very beginning until the end.

Describe the perfect client:
Open minded and critical, optimistic and careful, visionary but down to earth, respectful and good humoured. 

How is the continual change in technology impacting on what you produce?
The increasing quality of product development technology, combined with new materials, offers a wide range of possibilities for experiments in terms of forms, structures and functions. 

jasonbrown

Jason Brown 

Company name:
Knightsbridge Furniture Productions. 

How is the continual change in workplace trends impacting on what you produce?
As the markets blend and head towards a domestic influenced aesthetic, it allows Knightsbridge to design and develop cross-marketable products that can be specified for workplace, hospitality, education or healthcare. It is our ability to adapt to these changes that is the reason we are still here after 80 years. 

How do you become informed about the changes in workplace transformation?
Our main information streams will be very much like other people; quality industry publications, both printed and digital, and attending and exhibiting at trade exhibitions, which cover furniture, interiors, furnishing, components and machinery. We also have strong relationships with our client base, which provides feedback on how trends are working and if indeed they are working. There is also a responsibility on us to study and know our design history as, inevitably, design principles do repeat. 

Describe the perfect client:
I would say one that knows either what they do want or what they don’t want. Even in the loosest terms, this is a great start to a brief. It is important to know your client and create a really good working relationship. We have a responsibility to possess the relevant schooling and skillsets to offer suggestions and alternatives where necessary, but it certainly helps if the finished design can be a result of ideas from all parties. 

When you are creating a new product, how much do you think about the specifier?
Most products have core values to fulfil, such as price, functionality, aesthetics, ergonomics, legislative constraints etc – and we have to consider how many of these subjects are important to specifiers. We run regular CPD’s with our current and prospective client base, which provides a vehicle for comment and knowledge sharing. These sessions prove to be really fruitful and I can only hope to increase the frequency of them. 

How is the continual change in technology impacting on what you produce?
We are a design and manufacture organisation, so changes to design and specification are a regular occurrence for us – and we are great at it. In terms of incorporating technology into our furniture, we have the skill and knowledge to do this and there are good quality organisations developing products that are easily integrated. 

Barry Jenkins

Barry Jenkins

Company name:
BroomeJenkins Ltd. 

How is the continual change in workplace trends impacting on what you produce?
The modern office still needs places for people to work effectively and comfortably. Space planning and headcount used to be key, but today we think about the user and ‘placemaking’. We design products to enable a range of settings, some of which remain conventional assigned workstations, while others are transitional, flexible and social. 

How do you become informed about changes in workplace transformation?
Due to commercial imperatives, we cannot ignore re-cycled ‘knowledge’ circulating the media. However, we find observing life, nature and technology is a good source of insight. In addition, working with end users shifts the focus from the physical product to thinking about the workplace culture and environment. 

What is your biggest challenge as a business and why?
Design consultancy is a competitive arena so, as a small company, it is important to become specialists. Although we have a broad range of experience, today we focus upon the workplace sector. Our challenge, therefore, is to leverage our expertise, knowledge and portfolio to develop opportunities and relationships with complementary clients. 

Favourite product you created in the last 12 months?
Although Fourfold is a ‘simple’ folding table, the challenge was to replace the conventional ‘T’ leg and cantilevered top with four legs. Providing greater support and stability, Fourfold had to be safe for one person to use, and mobile and compact when folded. Having explored many frame geometries, we know that the result is the definitive and unmistakable solution. 

How is the continual change in technology impacting on what you produce?
With regards to the actual workplace, technology is the great liberating force that has changed the way we work, simplified furniture systems and untethered the user. In relation to R&D, new technology has been equally liberating, expanding possibilities, increasing design rigour and compressing time. 

Davidfox

David Fox

Company name:
David Fox Design Ltd 

What is your biggest challenge as a business and why?
To future gaze and listen outside the design industry, Ted Talks etc, and look at new product development that suits current needs, in a rapidly changing environment. People are becoming insular, using technology to interact rather than face-to-face, and this limits people sitting together on long benches in preference of more quiet personal space. 

Describe the perfect client:
A client that provides the commercial information about the sector they want to penetrate in a brief, and allows me to labour over design, refinement and product details, as opposed to changing things without consultation or consideration – sometimes resulting in something less elegant/timeless. 

Has the uncertainty of Brexit affected your business (if so how)?
With 50% of my business now coming from overseas it hasn’t – however I have been most disappointed that some UK manufacturers who have stepped off new product development in fear of what could possibly happen. They should be strong if it’s a hard Brexit – surely it would be more proactive to have new stuff to export. 

Which product do you wish you had designed?
Commercially, we all love a good screw! After all, it holds most things I design together, so I guess my answer to this would have to be that. I also wish someone would let me re-design the matchless G50 motorcycle. It’s hard to beat a true classic, but I would love the challenge. 

craigjones

Craig Jones & Phidias Leonida 

Company name:
Jones & Partners. 

How is the continual change in workplace trends impacting on what you produce?
The studio has lived through a great deal of change in the workplace but evolution is still relatively slow compared to some of the other markets we work in. We are always trying to interpret and even predict change and understand how it might make an impact on people’s environments. 

How do you become informed about the changes in workplace transformation?
We keep our eyes, ears and minds open. Our learning comes from design and non-design literature, practitioners, specifiers, technologists, end users and ‘expert’ reports. And of course Mix! 

What is your biggest challenge as a business and why?
Learning how to present ourselves to the market in the best possible way. Whilst we feel confident researching, conceptualising and designing for manufacture, how to sell ourselves remains a bit of a mystery. 

Describe the perfect client:
Perfection only exists in the head of the dreamer. I’m a realist. 

When you are creating a new product, how much do you think about the specifier?
As a studio we are doing more designing to meet the needs of specifiers and end users than ever. We have taken on more direct client work, which helps give us insights into specific problems and requirements as yet unanswered within the wider market. 

How often do you talk to those specifiers?
We are in regular dialogue with the market, at exhibitions, during our day-to-day work and often with a cup of tea or a beer. 

Has the uncertainty of Brexit affected your business (if so how)?
Uncertainty affects any business but because we have a global client base we feel a bit more secure. We ‘remain’ philosophical and realistic about the situation and are ready for the changes ahead. 

Favourite product you’ve created in the last 12 months?
Thinking Quietly, designed for Thinking Works; our first Red Dot, and great fun to design for a ‘perfect’ client. 

Which product do you wish you had designed?
The wooden dowel – hidden but beautiful in its simplicity and effectiveness. 

Is the competitive nature of the market: more, less or about the same as 10 years ago?
The market for design has altered in its small details but what remains unchanged is that experience and knowledge are worth more than a nice sketch, render or 3D print. 

How is the continual change in technology impacting on what you produce?
Technological change has given us new possibilities but the promise of the new and shiny can be misleading. We like to keep in touch with the established and the new, cross-pollinating when appropriate and viewing the modern under a microscope and not through rose-tinted spectacles. 

Are European workplace product designers more advanced than their American counterparts?
No, we are just faced with different problems and work within the constraints of our local possibilities and barriers. 

barberosgerby

Barber & Osgerby 

Who is responding to this?
Edward Barber 

Company name:
Barber & Osgerby 

How is the continual change in workplace trends impacting on what you produce?
Our job as designers is to be protagonists. Our job is to see what’s happening around us and offer solutions and improvements for the continuously changing world we live in. 

The workplace is one of the fastest changing areas of both design and social interaction. With the proliferation of portable devices over the last decade, the workplace has expanded from the office to the home, plane, bus, café and hotel lobby. Combined with the huge increase of freelance workers, the coworking office is now becoming the norm. We saw these changes as the starting point for our Soft Work system for Vitra. We strongly believe that the conventional chair and desk are dying and that Soft Work could replace that. 

How do you become informed about the changes in workplace transformation?
The idea for a work-focused sofa system came after observation of the lobby area at the Ace Hotel London. After designing the space, we noted that, for 12 hours a day, every single seat – not just those around the long worktable – was taken with people tapping away at laptops, tablets and phones. Coupled with the fact that we spend a lot of our time travelling, where much of it is spent working in different locations and environments, we started thinking that there are just so many people that work this way, we need to design the appropriate system for it. 

What is your biggest challenge as a business and why?
Managing the amount of time we travel versus the time we spend in the studio. Travel is an essential part of what we do as we are continuously reviewing prototypes and visiting factories all over the world. But studio time with our team is equally important to be able to develop the new projects we are working on. 

Describe the perfect client:
Someone who employs you for the right reasons; who appreciates your work, who wants to be challenged, who is ambitious, who doesn’t already know what they want and who has a sensible budget! 

Favourite product you’ve created in the last 12 months?
The Bellhop portable light for Flos. It’s such a friendly and satisfying object to live with, which works in any situation. The battery powered LED light can be carried around the home like a modern day candle. The advent of long-life rechargeable batteries and low energy bulbs has enabled products such as this to exist, which was previously impossible.