This week, we sat down with Greg Kooistra, VP of Product Design to discuss how Watson puts design thinking to work within its design and development process.
Q: Can you give me examples of how Design Thinking shows up in Watson products?
A: "Sure thing, I’ll give you three. Decades ago when systems [cubicles] were really popular we observed facilities and installation teams constantly looking for ways to shuffle brackets around that secured worksurfaces to the panels during re-configurations. Well, office furniture is made from composite wood core panels and you can only run a screw into the same location 2 or 3 times before it no longer holds.
In today’s agile work environments, reconfiguration is even more frequent. We recognized this was a great place to add value for our clients and instituted the use of brass inserts with machine screw threads. What does that mean? Basically it lets you use a machine screw to take apart and re-assemble furniture an infinite number of times. This lets us have 100% confidence in a key mechanical aspect across the product's lifecycle.
Below: Brass inserts enable reconfigurability not just once or twice, but throughout a product's lifecycle
Moreover, with our product you’ll notice nearly a complete absence of plastic injection molded components. Many of our competitors (image below) rely heavily on these items for caps, functional hardware bits and pieces. We had a few product lines this way in the late ‘90s, but found out quickly we were spending an inordinate amount of time sending replacement parts to customer for their desk toe caps or panel top caps, moreover, during site visits at year 1, 3, 5, 10 these items were always showing excessive wear and tear, and detracted from the general appearance of the furniture.
Many furniture companies don’t pay this close attention to detail. But we saw a significant business problem with these components. Our brand is about quality, so when our sales team takes new clients into existing installations our products have to prove our claims about their superior durability. For these reasons and a few others it is verboten at Watson to use injection molded parts on anything susceptible to damage or aesthetic degradation.
Below: Competitor base with injection molded parts (top) compared to Watson Seven foot without (bottom)
Finally, I mentioned we used composite wood core panels in our products. Even here not all materials are the same and the majority of our competitors find themselves switching to thinner and lower cost species of wood panels. They’re not doing this for design reasons mind you, it’s simply the cost accountants going after designers to “Value Engineer” products.
There are some inherent product quality attributes that are sacrificed when you switch from 1-1/4” thick surfaces to 7/8” surfaces. They sag more over time and take on a cheaper RTA feeling. I’ve seen three large manufacturers also switch from full ¾” thick casework construction to 5/8”. These boxes flex and rack substantially more and weaken attachment points for hardware. There has also been an endemic switch from Fir panels to Pine due to cost, but Pine has inferior stiffness and strength compared to Fir.
These changes are not always immediately perceptible to the average customer, however, working from better rather than cheaper raw materials is another key non-negotiable in our designs because we have to be able to support the lifetime warranty. These materials are proven to take a beating and come out looking as good as the day they were installed."
- Greg Kooistra, VP of Product Design