Take a moment to think about the first desktop computer you used in a professional setting. Chances are, it was a lifeless taupe or black box and clunky keyboard attached to a bulky computer screen that weighed more than a healthy teenager, all connected with a pile of cords that looked like a plate of spaghetti.
“Now,” said computer designers to the office furniture industry, “build something to hold this stuff. And while you are at it, manage all those cords and the the power needed to run it all.”
That’s the point when furniture became nothing more than a prop for technology tools. I recently looked through a book on workplace designs from the mid-1980s. I immediately wanted to assign blame for the sea of cubicles and sterile office chairs found in that era of the office. Should we blame the office furniture makers for creating lifeless panel systems? Perhaps it is better to blame the interior design industry for bastardising the products the industry created and applying them in the wrong way?
Neither was at fault. Instead, the furniture industry and design world was simply responding to the tools being brought into the office. It did the best it could with the hand it was dealt.
In the office, classroom and healthcare facility, we are slaves to the technology and tools that help us do our jobs. We always have been and always will be. So when those tools are better integrated, become smaller or disappear completely — as they have in recent years — it frees design to become beautiful rather than simply functional.
For a company that cares about design, that is a blessing. It means a desk can become a desk again, no longer constrained by the weight of a CRT or the cords that snake from its surface. We are entering a real renaissance in furniture, a time when design will rule and we can once again, as an industry, guide the future of the workplace rather than deferring to technology. No one will benefit more than your customers who will get great spaces created with the worker in mind, rather than the technology that inhabits the space.
Yet it also poses some challenges for the industry. We have no excuses for making bad furniture anymore. Interior designers can’t blame bad space design on technology either. This untethering from our tech tools will continue to change the way work happens — from the classroom to the office to the hospital.
As this furniture renaissance unfolds, it will put miles between the companies that understand the importance of great design and those who just want to build furniture the way they always have. Those who don’t get it will be left behind. Those who do will benefit handsomely. What kind of company will yours be?
Author – Rob Kirkbride