I spent a couple of days this week at InfoComm, the big trade show for the audio-visual industry. As usual the most impressive, almost mind-blowing exhibits belonged to the big players in video displays—companies like LG, which showed massive, high-resolution screens playing gorgeous video of Machu Picchu from the air, closeups of cheetahs’ faces… that sort of thing, the kind of video that doesn’t need virtual reality to make you feel like you could just step into this amazing world you’re viewing.
At the more workaday level, I was there to get updates from companies that are driving the next generation of video and audio for enterprises. And if there was one word I heard in my conversations whose prominence I would never have anticipated, it was: “design.”
Whether showing me a device that enables wireless presentations in meeting rooms—a black disc about the size of a hockey puck—small speakers for a videoconference setup, or large speakers consciously created to be an element of the office aesthetic, the folks talking to me about these and many more products made a point of the importance of their design aesthetic. The design philosophy might have been simple and clean, or striking and creative, but there definitely was a design philosophy, and it was important to the vendor.
Everyone seems to be thinking a lot more about office design factors, as enterprises strive to attract younger, more creative workers, and to provide spaces and furnishings that speak to the qualities and values that they seek in their workforces. So it shouldn’t be surprising that this concern extends all the way down to AV elements that used to be thought of as almost purely functional.
Of course the elements of office design that really take center stage are the furnishings, and this Bloomberg article describes an interesting development. The article centers on a soon-to-be-released office chair model, the Pacific, from the Swiss manufacturer Vitra. The chair attracted about the best high-profile fan you can get, at least in Silicon Valley: Jony Ive, the legendary Apple designer who made the Pacific the standard for Apple’s new headquarters.
The chair isn’t designed for coders who expect to be sitting in the same place, in front of the same screen, for hours, according to Bloomberg. Rather, “the Pacific is meant to be a pit stop during your workday.” In other words, it reflects the philosophy of the Activity-Based Workspace, in which workers are expected to be mobile within the office throughout the day, changing their physical location as they devote themselves to a variety of tasks and interactions with colleagues.
Bloomberg quotes a founder of the firm that designed the chairs, Jay Osgerby: “Office furniture has always been designed to look like an extension of what your boss expects you to do.”
And if there’s one company that understands how design can shape the consciousness of those who encounter it, it’s Apple. Now other tech companies seem to be coming to the same realization, as they strive to accommodate workforces that see technology almost exclusively through the lens of their experiences as consumers, rather than workers.
In other words, the worlds of technology, design, and human factors are becoming more tightly interrelated than ever before in the world of the enterprise.