"The way people are working has changed, but the furniture has not evolved," says Yves Béhar, founder of fuseproject. Which is not to say that in recent years offices haven’t modernized or, rather, adjusted to include more communal spaces that accommodate spontaneous bursts of brainstorming.
Béhar is referring to the conference room, not the desk template. And the conference room is outdated. "What has been happening in the industry, for years, is an attempt to have a few prescriptive areas: This a great place for collaboration or brainstorming. It’s a destination. You have to go there," Béhar tells Co.Design.
Public Office Landscape is fuseproject’s antidote. The modular furniture system—which debuted this week at the Neocon trade show in Chicago—was created to embed collaboration into every minute of the workday. Béhar developed the structures for Herman Miller, but Public is actually the result of 11 years of organic in-house experimentation at fuseproject. The design company has, from the beginning, brought multidisciplinary teams together to collaborate on projects.
Two years ago, when Herman Miller gave Béhar an open-ended brief for a new office furniture system, fuseproject started playing with new configurations of prototypes in their office. "We acted as both guinea pig and lab coat, trying to solve a problem from within but also looking at it from the outside," Béhar says.
The Public concept allows for a comfortable amount of individual space while still adhering to the concept of an open, social environment. Modular pieces mean that group numbers can change, and the furniture can adapt. But the larger goal is to make every desk space as functional as a conference room, so you don’t have to wait to book a room the next day if a spark of inspiration is happening right now.
Besides turning the fuseproject office into a living laboratory for the system, the studio studied office behavior at more than 20 companies on the West Coast, ranging from big Silicon Valley companies, such as Google and Facebook, to smaller startups and more traditional offices. Between observation and interviews, the designers found an across-the-board hunger for better ways to collaborate in-office.
"We have a ton of photos of the idiosyncrasies of the way people pull funky chairs by their desks to encourage people to sit there," Béhar says. It’s also a common practice at forward-thinking offices, like at Square or Evernote, to have an office floor plan with those kinds of quirky meeting spots already built in. At the American Express offices, the BlueWork program makes office supplies and trashcans more communal, to gently coerce employees into more watercooler situations. But fuseproject’s design is based off the assertion that 70% of collaboration happens at an actual workstation, and not necessarily during ad-hoc meetings in the hallway.
As Béhar also points out, there is no longer a technical need to be in the office. We have state-of-the-art computers and communication systems at home and in our pockets. But we miss out on the most crucial element of working with a team: other people. "The more people interact—the more they have quick chats in an improvised way—the more efficient and happy they are."
Read more about the design process over at fuseproject.