Archive for July, 2013

Haworth Bluescreen Touchboard: Coolest Office Accessory Ever?

Bluescape is attempting to revolutionize the way businesses complete projects.

During your company’s last budget summit, chances are the tools you used during the meeting were probably the same ones you’ve been using for years: Flip charts, whiteboards, Post-Its, Powerpoints and index cards. But with all the technological advancements of the last decade, doesn’t it seem like those tools are a little old-fashioned?

The designers at Haworth thought so. That’s why they teamed up with the a San Francisco-based tech company to create Bluescape, a digital interface that brings to life all that wow-inducing technology we lusted after on “Minority Report.”

“Bluescape is an infinite, collaborative workspace designed to accelerate decision-making by enabling anyone to create, communicate, visualize, organize, and strategize virtually anything, anywhere, anytime,” according to the Haworth website.

The cloud-based technology platform allows decision makers and teams to solve problems and communicate with each other from anywhere around the world via iPads, laptops and other mobile devices. But the centerpiece of the the product (and the most jaw-dropping part) is the wall-sized touchscreen made from 15 55-inch flat screen monitors each equipped with 32 sensors that can read a user’s hand movements.

While the technology isn’t available to purchase just yet, it’s already garnered a lot of buzz, nabbing the Best of Neocon 2013 Gold Aware and Best of Neocon 2013 Best of Competition last month in Chicago.

“The scale of this technology is just mind-blowing, that you can have such a large canvas to work with and so many people interacting with it,” Carnegie Mellon University entrepreneurship professor Stuart Evans told BusinessWeek. Stuart has been testing a Bluescape system in his classroom for more than a year now.

Background

The concept for Bluescape was born in 2006 when Haworth’s own designers were reviewing the company’s seating portfolio. Small cards for each product were printed and pinned to a wall, allowing the designers to view all of the seating products at one place, at one time for the first time ever. However, the setup didn’t allow for designers to re-categorize or re-organize the products.

Flash forward to 2010 when a Haworth salesman called the designers to tell them about Obscura Digital, a tech company that specialized in large-scale, high-resolution, multi-touch display solutions. After meeting with the award-winning creative technology studio, Haworth knew it’d found the perfect partner for its foray into creating a brand-new type of business technology.

How Does it Work?

Bluescape attempts to knock down the silos that hinder traditional businesses, inhibiting connectivity and growth. With the software, users are given 160 acres of space (the equivalent of 146 football fields) on which team members can work together or apart. That’s a bit more room than that wall with photos pinned all over it.

The “digital ecosystem” features multitouch screens that can be used to share information and build ideas with an organic interface based on common activities like writing and erasing, enlarging and minimizing, moving objects and navigating (users should find a lot of the movements mimic how they’d interact with a smartphone). Users can share everything from blueprints to internet browsers to videos. All collaboration happens in real-time; any team member with an internet connection can participate in meetings remotely as their colleagues work on the physical wall.

Since the act of physically writing something can have more meaning than typing, Bluescape comes with a stylus that can be used like a pen and captures the users handwriting with line quality that’s better than a dry-erase marker on a whiteboard. The ability to electronically pin objects and add sticky notes also furthers the more familiar experiences of working on a project.

Rather than just see one thing at a time, users can view more information, from multiple datasets to graphs or photos, on a larger scale, allowing them to find patterns, trends, and relationships more readily.

Team members can feel free to share new ideas as they come, rather then waiting for the next meeting, which allows product creation to move faster. All projects can be developed, saved and referred to over and over, creating a virtual timeline of work. Each session is considered an intellectual property of the company and is securely saved for review anytime that’s needed.

Who’s Buying It

As of early May, there were nearly 30 potential customers testing Bluescape, according to Businessweek, including a film company, architectural firm, hotel chain and some manufacturers.

Companies interested in buying their own Bluescape better start saving their pennies.

Scott Poulton, Haworth’s vice president for strategic ventures and chief executive officer of the Bluescape subsidiary, told Businessweek that a basic setup with just a single monitor runs for around $30,000. For a larger setup, like the 15-screen version referenced earlier, you’ll pay upwards of $1 million.

Meet an Arnolds Office Furniture Installer

Arnolds Office Furniture installer Brandon Bicks, and the beard that's launched a thousand cubicles.

Arnolds Office Furniture installer Brandon Bick, and the beard that’s launched a thousand cubicles.

Over the last 10 years that Arnolds Office Furniture installer Brandon Bick has been on the job, he’s delivered and assembled workspaces for thousands of companies across the country and internationally.

To say that he knows a thing or two about office furniture is a bit of an understatement.

Bick’s hauled and installed office furniture in every state except Hawaii (he says Arizona, Colorado and Utah are his favorite scenery-wise) for companies ranging in size from home-based businesses in need one or two desks to an IRS building that needed to be outfitted with 1,000-plus cubicles.

From private companies to military units to government offices, he’s pretty much done it all.

He’s even had the opportunity to travel overseas on jobs.

“If it’s a really large-scale job and they want to make sure it’s done right, they’ll send me out to supervise it. But besides that I mainly do in-country,” he said in a recent interview, during which he was moving around some extremely heavy objects. (We, of course, did nothing to help him; our weak arms could barely hold up the digital recorder we used to learn more about his job.)

The amount of time it takes to install cubicles varies, of course, on the size of the company. Large jobs like the IRS building took three months to complete, Bick said, but for a smaller company needing 35 or so cubicles, it usually takes just three to five days. Other factors play into install time as well, like whether the client is getting new versus used cubicles and how big his crew is. For large installs, Bick makes use of a bigger crew lead by project managers who finish the jobs quickly and efficiently.

And professionally, too we might add. Bick is no stranger to installing $30,000 desks in the offices of high-profile people like senators and other government officials.

The most intense install he’s had to do was for the headquarters of Tiffany & Co., during which he and his crew were fully searched each time they entered and exited the building.

“They carried rocks, big rocks,” he said. “Tiffany diamonds was harder to get in there than it was to get on Fort Dix military base.”

As far as the most popular office furniture, Bick said for years it seemed that everyone wanted Steelcase cubicles, but that nowadays Herman Miller tends to be the most popular. In fact, if he had to sit in a cubicle all day rather then just assemble them, he’d go with Herman Miller, too, especially the the My Studio line.

“They’re not fun to build, but visually a great-looking unit,” he said.

We’re sure we can reserve one of our beautiful used My Studio cubes for Bick, should he ever decide to opt for a desk job.

That is, as long as he’s willing to assemble it.

The Coolest Office Furniture at NeoCon 2013

Last month, tens of thousands of designers, architects, and trade professionals gathered in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart to check out the latest furniture innovations during NeoCon 2013.

North American’s largest design exposition and conference for commercial interiors features the latest design trends, products and concepts for everything from offices to hospitals to homes from more than 700 exhibitors. With a seemingly unending recession plaguing the office furniture world, attendance at this year’s event, up slightly from 2012 with 41,488 visitors, might indicate business is finally starting to pick up.

Not surprisingly in an era where seemingly everyone is tethered to a smartphone or tablet, technology integration was a huge focus of this year’s NeoCon. Some of the coolest pieces found at the fair reflected the need for a seamless digital interface at work.

Take a look at the most buzzed-about displays:

Bluescape is Haworth's vision of a virtual office.

Bluescape is Haworth’s vision of a virtual office.

Haworth’s Bluescape: One of the most talked about exhibits at NeoCon was Bluescape, a cloud-based virtual workspace allowing employees to collaborate in the same room or across continents via everything from wall-sized touchscreens to iPads to mobile devices. It received a gold for workplace technologies and took home the Best of Competition award at NeoCon. “Bluescape was created to accelerate business results by enhancing innovation, strategizing, solving problems and sharing information in real time,” Bluescape CEO Scott Poulton said.

The Gesture chair moves with you as you use mobile devices -- whether you're texting, scanning, slouching, or scrunching.

The Gesture chair moves with you as you use mobile devices, whether you’re texting, scanning, slouching, or scrunching.

Steelcase Gesture chair: This task chair was designed to support posture shifts as a person goes from using a laptop to a tablet to a smartphone. To create the chair, Steelcase conducted a global posture study by observing 2,000 people from 11 countries in a wide range of postures while using new technology. From the study, they isolated nine new postures created by our use of modern devices and designed the chair to best accommodate these positions.

Gill industries: The Grand Rapids, Mich. company showcased wireless technology integrated into a workstation that allows multiple devices to be charged on a single surface without being plugged in. That’s right: No wires, cables, docks or plugs needed and devices don’t need to be arranged in any specific way, either. Just set them down and enjoy your morning cup of coffee.

Living Office is Herman Millers solution to a workplace that is ever evolving.

Living Office is Herman Millers solution to a workplace that is ever evolving.

Herman Miller’s Living Office: With its Living Office line, Herman Miller addresses the major shift in how workers work, reflected the blurring line between work and home life and the reliance on digital technology. The line was also designed to encourage people to connect and communicate; the result is an workplace that resembles more of a coffee shop than an office with bench seating and cafe-esque tables sitting alongside desks and office chairs.

AllSteel's easy-to-reconfigure, collaboration-inducing Create line.

AllSteel’s easy-to-reconfigure, collaboration-inducing Create line.

AllSteel Create: The winner of the Best of NeoCon, the Furniture Systems’ Gold Award, this line focuses on collaboration, connectivity and flexibility by offering companies a wide variety of options for configuring and reconfiguring their work environments and featuring worksurfaces, support systems, screens, storage and other tools.

Need a conference room on the go? Then you need the Rendezvous Meeting Booth.

Need a conference room on the go? You need the Rendezvous Meeting Booth.

Rendezvous Meeting Booth: This mobile meeting room from Swiftspace offers up to six employees a comfortable, informal spot to meet and can be set up in under a minute. The piece was a Best of Neocon winner in the Conference Room Furniture category.

Other pieces that struck a chord included the Guardian, an office chair with bulletproof vest and the Locus Workstation, a not-quite-standing, not-quite-sitting option from noted shoe designer Brian Keen.

According to TalkContract some other notable trends include:

  • Fuchsia as an eye-popping accent color.
  • Felt as an acoustics-friendly cover for chairs, sofas and tables and on wall hangings, panel products and flooring.
  • Booths, hoods and other solutions for offering privacy to individuals having conversations on a cell phone.
  • Furniture that found new and unique ways to inspire collaboration among employees

 

Suitcase Doubles as Office Furniture

There are lots of portable desks hitting the market -- one of the newest concepts is BOXED, a desk, stool and lamp contained in a briefcase.

There are lots of portable desks hitting the market, and one of the newest concepts is BOXED: A desk, stool and lamp contained in a briefcase.

It’s no secret that offices are shrinking.

Many businesses have taken to reducing workspace as a means to trimming their budgets while the economy limps along. As a result, all those giant cubicles and grand conference tables of yesteryear are becoming dinosaurs in offices that are trying to use small spaces more efficiently.

Furniture designers are taking note of the trend and have come up with some unique solutions for compact, portable workstations like the Openaire laptop case that transforms into a lightweight chair and work surface, or the Fold N Go True Adjust Portable workstation which resembles an oversized footstool.

One of the newest entries is BOXED, an innovative wooden briefcase created by Scottish designer Tyrone Stoddart that turns into a workstation in minutes. Take a look:

“I began looking into how the size of living space is decreasing year by year, and as we gradually learn to live in smaller spaces, our products need to be designed in light of this,” Stoddart told Wired. “This led to the idea of multi-functional furniture but not just that, as I wanted it to be adaptable.”

BOXED can be turned into a desk, coffee table, two stools and a lamp. The box contains just 24 pieces total: The case itself, two stools, a lamp and 20 legs.

If you’ve ever played with Tinker toys or assembled cheap shelving, then you’ll be able to put together your new BOXED workstation in a jiffy. Just open up the briefcase, remove the the board that will serve as the stool’s seat and screw on the legs (no tools required, the legs come with screws already attached). Screw on the legs to the bottom of the briefcase, also known as your work surface, with one pole on each corner if you’re using it as a coffee table or two poles on each corner for a desk. Finally, turn your stool and desk over and screw on the pole with attached desk lamp. Voila! Your desk in a box is assembled in the amount of time it takes for you to get your afternoon cup of coffee.

As if its portable design weren’t enough, BOXED is also trying to raise awareness about chalara or ash dieback: A disease that’s killing off ash trees. Each briefcase comes with a small pouch of ash seeds intended for the buyer to plant and get a better understanding about the natural resources used in everyday products and the need to replenish them.

The verdict is still out on whether products like BOXED will having staying power in the modern workplace. While it’s not yet available for purchase, Stoddart is currently looking into mass producing it eventually.

From where we’re sitting, it’s not likely the average employee will be happy working on a stool day after day, and while we love the simplicity of the product, the lack of any extra storage space might cramp our hoarding ways a bit.

However, as the number of telecommuters and freelancers grow, we can see the appeal to a product like this for someone seeking temporary workspace on the go. In fact, we’d love to set up our BOXED desk poolside at a tropical resort. It looks like there’s just enough space for a laptop and a margarita.

7 Tips for Office Furniture in a Shrinking Office

Whether it’s because budgets are tight or more employees are telecommuting, offices are shrinking.

According to the New York Times, the average amount of space per employee in the U.S. has dropped from 400 square feet in 1985 to 250 square feet. That number is expected to go down to 150 square feet within the next decade.

At NeoCon, which was held in Chicago last month, furniture designers showcased a variety of solutions for the problems encountered in small offices from chairs with sound-muffling felt hoods that can be lowered in order to have a private cell phone conversation to restaurant-like booths equipped with video screens and Wi-Fi for impromptu meetings, according to Chicago Business.

If the thought of investing in all new furniture for your tiny office is giving you a major heart attack, fear not. There are ways to maximize your office space without doing a complete furniture overhaul. Here are some ideas:

Blocked-Seating
1. Reconfigure desks: Is the way your desks are arranged making the most efficient use of space? The productivity experts at Sandglaz.com recommended basic configurations that can maximize the space in a small office and increase productivity:
Paired islands: In an open-concept office, scatter pairs of desks facing each other throughout the space.
Assembly line: Line desks up side to side along the length of the room. If you need multiple rows, make them face each other to increase collaboration and discussion.
Blocked seating: Similar to island seating, but with four desks blocked together. It’s great for small teams.
Bullpen: Use desks to create an inside facing circle or rectangle to maximize the amount of idea-sharing and conversation.

2. Re-think the conference room: When you’re tight on space and funds and every inch of space counts, conference rooms matter. Unless that giant conference room table is in use a majority of the workweek (instead of just a few meetings here and there), it’s eating up some valuable real estate. Either consider doing away with the large conference room entirely, instead relying on smaller gathering spaces throughout the office for group meetings, or turn the conference room into a quiet workspace where many employees can make use of that big table bench-seating style.

Outside-Meeting
3. Make meetings mobile: If you’ve decided to use your conference room for workspace, there are plenty of ways to create replacement meeting spaces throughout the office. Something as easy as a collapsible table and whiteboard on wheels can make creating ad-hoc meeting spaces a snap. Get a change of scenery by meeting outside or at a local coffee shop.

4. Use fewer desks: If you have a lot of employees who telecommute or work on the road, then hot desking might be a good solution for your office. Rather then giving each employee an assigned seat that might go unused the majority of the workweek, let employees sit where they want whether it’s at a traditional desk or a couch in a common area. Not having as many defined workspaces offers you more flexibility as your company deals with growing (or shrinking) pains.

Declutter
5. Declutter: How much of your office space is taken up by filing or storage cabinets? Rather then just squeezing people into tiny workspaces to accommodate all that paperwork, it might be time to break out the paper shredder and clear out unnecessary documents. If the thought of not having the expense reports from 1992 on hand sends shivers up your spine, rather than keep them in a space-hogging filing cabinet, scan the documents and store them digitally. Real estate is expensive; don’t spend more money on storing paper than you would on giving your employees a comfortable work environment.

6. Tear down walls: Those high-walled cubicles ala “Office Space” that you’ve been using for the past 20 years are going out of style, which is good for you because they can make an already small office feel like it was intended for hobbits rather than real-life humans. When switching to a smaller space, instead of bringing along your outdated behemoth workstations, look for more modern, compact solutions, like these Herman Miller Resolve workstations or this High-Tech Desk system. By getting rid of walls you’ll not only save space, but you’ll also get more natural light which will make the office feel bigger.

7. Go shopping: If your employees work from laptops and mobile devices, then the desks that you bought to accommodate giant PCs decades ago are wasting space. Rather than trying to squeeze them into a smaller office, consider selling or donating them and purchasing more compact workspaces that are better suited to the work your employees are doing today. Since we know you’re on a budget, think about buying used (or pre-owned if you prefer). You can find plenty of stylish, gently loved pieces at more than half (sometimes 70 to 80 percent) off the cost you’d pay retail at Arnolds.

Photo courtesy of Anchor1203/Flickr

Photo courtesy of Office Now/Flickr