Yves Behar & fuseproject
PUBLIC Office Landscape
PUBLIC Office Landscape
Thanks to the flexibility of this modular office furniture, contemporary office life can include a sense of individuality and community at the same time.
PUBLIC Office Landscape
PUBLIC is the first office system based on ergonomic seating, which encourages collaboration everywhere: at the desk, in circulation spaces, and in project areas and rooms. Visually consistent and modular surfaces, storage, and seating create the broad range of work settings that we believe are essential for a successful and collaborative workplace. PUBLIC’s Social Chair is the building block of the system, providing the scale and design language upon which all the other modules are based. With its collaboration-first approach, modular flexibility, and support for a wide scope of tasks and settings, PUBLIC defines a new benchmark for work environments.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
Current offices suffer from an outdated or limited definition of collaboration. Herman Miller’s global research found that 70% of collaboration happens at the desk, yet desks have never been designed for interaction. Despite growing evidence that workers need a variety of spaces, current collaboration solutions work within an outdated two-space paradigm: desks and conference rooms. This also illustrated the backlash on the open office: offices are often either too closed (cubicles with a few group spaces) or too open (noisy, hard to focus, no place for focused work or privacy). Our challenge was to deliver the best of both worlds.
People want casual informal spaces, yet most residential furniture is not ergonomic for work. In companies of all sizes and industries, we found that people aspire to more casual workspaces (influenced by start-up culture). Workers spend extended periods of time working in casual seating (residential couches, lounge chairs, stools, poufs, etc) that was not designed with work in mind. How do we deliver the casual feel that people want, but with improved ergonomics for work tasks and postures?
Needs change so quickly, how do we create a lasting solution? Most collaboration solutions become outdated when technology or needs change. Competitors’ collaboration solutions focus on integrated videoconferencing, which becomes outdated when technology improves. We also saw that permanently installed solutions are often too expensive and impractical for rapidly changing businesses. How do we effectively support changing needs and technology throughout the office, in a way that doesn’t quickly become obsolete?
The challenge given to us was to design the ultimate setting for collaborative work —without limitation. Our client saw collaboration solutions, like competitors’ videoconferencing set-ups, as a gap in their own portfolio. The ideal solution would take market share from competitors and reassert thought leadership with a tangible philosophy on the future of collaborative work. As designers do for any problem, we looked at why these solutions exist now and how we think behaviors are changing.
Success was achieved by reframing the brief in a more interesting way—from a singular collaboration setting to a system that enables work at many levels. With the belief that the more people connect, the better they work, our approach began to think of every place in the office, including our individual desks, as a place for collaboration. We saw that the answer to collaboration wasn’t in a one-size-fits-all videoconferencing solution. We asked ourselves: How do we systematize the zeitgeist of collaboration, while eliminating the interruptions that stifle performance?
Research: Primary and secondary research initiated our strategy and informed our point of view. We visited a range of companies, from large, established corporations to edgy Bay Area startups, and interviewed facilities managers, office workers, architects, and office planners. We observed behavior and work styles across multiple industries. Our research also included a broad audit of the latest trends in workplace behavior, technology, and real estate.
Ideation: Our research helped us to formulate a point of view on the opportunity space, collaboration and the future of work. Through analysis and synthesis of the inputs, we identified a number of frictions (or barriers) for workers. These frictions, like finding a place to meet or plugging in technology, inspired scenarios that the design team used to sketch furniture solutions and later to determine technical requirements. The sketching and rendering process continually brought up new challenges and opportunities to solve.
Prototyping: At the same time that we were translating our vision to design, we were moving offices into a larger space. The empty office gave us the opportunity to prototype at scale and ultimately put ourselves inside our own design process, which we called the Living Lab. The project team began working in PUBLIC prototypes early on in the process. From rough components mocked up from plywood and hacked furniture, all the way up to a v1 build, we required ourselves to live with our designs and to prove them out, in a feedback loop that was much faster than is usually possible for such a large-scale project. The client set up a Living Lab in their office across the country, where their team also worked in the prototypes while making engineering refinements.
In tight collaboration with our client, we conducted extensive studies on dimensions, configurations, human factors, materials, and construction for all elements of the system. Key technical challenges were also worked through. For example, the curved back of the Social Chair enables a variety of uses (multiple seating positions and layout configurations), but it requires the fabric to curve 90° using only two points. After dozens of rounds of prototyping, we found a way to curve the fabric in tension using the same 3D knitting technique in Nike Flyknits. The 3D knit also eliminated sewing and used far less material than traditional upholstery.
Prototyping unlocked other key challenges, like power/cable management, connecting elements, seat loft, etc. Cost and aesthetic tradeoffs were worked through as we finalized all elements of the system. Overall, we were able to cut costs by 1/3 with reduced assembly and simplified CMF.
We believe collaboration isn’t binary—we are not either at our desks or in conference rooms. Our approach began to think of every place in the office as a place for collaboration. The result was a physical expression of a new work philosophy:
A design language for the office: PUBLIC is designed for connection, both literally and figuratively, with flexible surfaces that connect to desks, storage, and seating (and connect people in the process). A continuous horizontal line connects the system, and creates flow from object to object and space to space. The result is a harmonious visual connection that also encourages movement and use.
Casual collaboration made ergonomic: PUBLIC responds to the need for casual, drop-in seating. The Social Chair provides proper support even over longer work sessions. We think it represents a new archetype, which we call Casual Performance Seating. These collaborative elements are made more productive when they’re complimented by places to focus. Vertical, fabric surfaces improve concentration and reduce distractions from office activity.
Modular flexibility: We believe that workplaces are like businesses—they must continually adapt to thrive. Because PUBLIC is modular, customers can do more with less and evolve as their size and needs change. Unlike a traditional system, customers aren’t locked into a single use case or configuration. The modularity is not just on the surface–power elements are easily detached and surfaces are made of lightweight materials. We believe this flexibility is hugely valuable given the rate of organizational change today.