This year at NeoCon, Watson is excited to launch a new collection aimed to serve the evolving needs of private office and team spaces. “Interesting combination,” might be your first reaction. After all, aren’t the needs of private offices and teaming spaces at the opposite ends of the spectrum?
We thought the same thing, however, after taking a closer look, we found that the overarching needs of these spaces are not so different after all. They are two of the most common workspaces in today’s offices that remain in closed spaces – often placed around the perimeter of the open plan. And they continue to shrink in size. They each need thoughtful solutions for accessible power and cable management (uggh, cord clutter!). They both need efficient storage solutions. They both need to support multiple users (more on this later). And wouldn’t it be nice if these spaces, often placed close together, had a consistent aesthetic? But perhaps the most important need users in these spaces share, that still lacks a thoughtful solution in today’s market, is height-adjustability (aka sit-to-stand). Until now, that is.
At NeoCon 2018, Watson will be introducing Tia – which stands for Thoughtfully Integrated Adjustment.
Watson’s in-house design team took a ‘back to the drawing board’ approach to design a height-adjustable solution for private office, teaming and meeting rooms from the ground up. Although there’s no denying that adjustable, sit-to-stand worksurfaces have made their way into private and meeting spaces, what you see on the market today is clunky and appears as though height-adjustability was an after-thought (because it was). The design approach for Tia was to start with height-adjustability (function) and make it beautiful (form) without the traditional, clunky look of a height-adjustable table. Instead, we just wanted it to look like a really cool table.
We sat down and interviewed lead designer, Ethan Pearl, to gain a better understanding of the holistic design approach for Tia, from the original concept, to engineering challenges and everything in between. Learn how Ethan and the rest of the Watson team brought Tia to life.
Read the interview in its entirety below and get a quick glimpse of behind the scenes at our photoshoot....
Q: What is your perspective on the evolution of height-adjustability in offices?
When height adjustable desks first hit the market, they brought workers access to a whole new way of working. They essentially gave users access to two desks in one: a sitting desk and a standing desk, as well as the ability to seamlessly switch between the two. This was incredible and innovative functionality to bring to a desk, and in the beginning that’s all these desks needed. No matter how unattractive the desks were, how hard they were to use (think notch and crank adjustability), or how poorly cable management was executed, none of this mattered. Because the adjustability brought so much value to the desk people were flocking to buy them despite their flaws. Over time, as height adjustability has evolved, both the aesthetics and functionality have improved. The advent of relatively cheap and reliable electric lifting columns have made electric height-adjustability very accessible and standard across the industry. However, you can always tell when you are looking at an adjustable desk. They are all defined by c and t legs with spindly lifting columns and cords dangling off the back with maybe an energy chain to keep them organized. For the most part, the look and function of these tables have not changed much in the past decade. We felt that the industry is ready for the next step in adjustable design - a desk that is as beautiful and refined as any fixed height desk, yet brings all the functionality that height adjustability offers. That was the idea behind Tia.
Q: So beyond just aesthetics, what problem(s) in today’s workplace does Tia solve?
Fundamentally Tia offers beautiful AND functional height-adjustable private office and meeting room solutions. Specifically, Tia offers thoughtful solutions to cable management, PD (power and data) access, and personal storage, all while remaining free-standing. Nothing is attached to the walls. And all in an effort to promote and support both focused work and effective collaboration, which is why the design evolved into Team and Meeting tables.
Describe how you arrived where you did, in terms of the design?
This was a journey of iteration. At the beginning, it started with a solution that we though solved an important problem: today’s users want to switch between sitting and standing throughout the day, for a whole host of reasons ranging from comfort to health to energy. And the current options height-adjustability in private spaces tend to be clunky and cumbersome. Our solution was to develop a leg system that was beautiful, functional, thoughtfully handled cable management, provided desktop PD, and supported all kinds of technology - providing a first class user experience. The initial mock up looked like this:
At this point, we didn’t know how we would make this. We didn’t know how the cable management would work, didn’t know what sizes and storage options we would offer, and didn’t know what PVD options we would have. We didn’t even know we would offer meeting tables as part of this product line. However, it sent us down this path, and provided us a concept to build upon. Since then, we have completed six rounds of prototyping and have designed, engineered, redesigned and re-engineered every aspect of this product line. It was only through this constant iteration that we got to where we are today. Which really doesn’t look all that different. Though each step improved the product and resulted in additional features, we also ‘pruned’ what didn’t work.
Q: What were your biggest challenges in terms of the design?
The biggest challenge was solving the problems that height adjustability causes. Working with the same lifting columns that are in every height adjustable table (because they are proven and reliable and we didn’t want to mess with that), yet finding a solution that truly looked different and minimal in its form was a huge challenge. Making the table stable, making sure there was room for cable management, for PD, space for the user, space for collaboration, making sure there were no pinch points, and nothing collided when the table moved up and down, all while making sure the legs looked good. We knew we had to get ALL of that right.
After you dialed in the design, what were the biggest challenges in bringing this product to life?
As a young designer, what I believe I learned that the really challenging work is how you translate a design into a real product – figuring out how to manufacture it on a large scale. Almost a year ago now, when I designed the initial Tia mock up and we received concept approval, I remember thinking that while we still had some details to figure out, the majority of the design work was already done. But that that was not the case. The heavy lifting revolves around all of the detailed decisions that have to be made, ranging anywhere from engineering and material strength to costs and manufacturability - working through each of these problems while still maintaining the spirit of the design.
What are the defining attributes of the product (across the workstation, team table and meeting table)?
One of the defining attribute of Tia are the simple post legs that support the tables. Like a gymnast balanced on a single leg, the table tops seem to balance on post legs. This juxtaposition between balance and stability, thinness and strength, gives the tables a very unique and beautiful aesthetic that is present across the product line.
Another defining feature is the carefully-designed cable management system. Each table is designed to have an easy-to-use and easily accessible cable management system that creates a cordless aesthetic, so Tia always looks super clean and refined no matter how much technology it supports.
The Tia product line is also united through its materiality. All possible finishes are available throughout the whole product line. The leg shrouds can all be powder matched, the surfaces can all utilize the same materials, including the new Forbo (furniture linoleum) material. Together, the finishes can really help unite private office and meeting spaces.
Q: One of Watson’s design tenants is to produce “super simple” products. Tell us how Tia is super simple.
Well first of all, Tia has a very simple aesthetic. It has clean lines and refined, really cool, yet subtle details. We avoided any “trendy” design elements in favor of a simple, timeless design.
But what’s also unique is that Tia was designed to be super simple to specify. For the private office, it is literally as simple as selecting the desk and credenza size you would like and you have a complete private office that is one seamless unit, yet completely freestanding. If you need more storage or display space, you can also choose a secondary storage unit that secures directly to the support credenza. With Tia, you never have to worry about securing anything to the walls, which means it is simple to use and repurpose in the future as well. The team and meeting tables are even simpler. Just select one of three Team table sizes (designed to fit the most common teaming room dimensions) and one of eight meeting table sizes and choose your finishes. Tia also has freestanding credenzas if you need expanded storage capabilities. Just like the support credenza, these free-standing credenzas can also support Tia secondary storage.
Q: Another of Watson’s design tenants is to produce products that are “super green.” What makes Tia super green?
Tia is made right here in Poulsbo, WA using recycled steel, formaldehyde-free (NAF) recycled wood particle and fiber boards and green-guard certified laminates. However, the most exciting new environmental innovation we are bringing to market with Tia is the use of Forbo Furniture Linoleum. This material is one of the greenest surface materials on the market, made of linseed oil and sawdust. It contains zero plastic and zero toxic chemicals. Along with its small environmental footprint, it has a very natural, yet somehow luxurious feel. Its smooth, subtle texture and soft, slightly yielding hand is much like leather.
To learn more about Tia, stop by our showroom at NeoCon, 10-155, sign up (link) to receive email updates about new product, contact your local rep (link) and stay tuned here on our website. Tia will be available to order the first week of July.