New Ways to Gather

With focused work increasingly taking place outside of traditional workspaces and meeting areas, Allsteel decided to expand its Gather collection of collaborative furniture.To support new ways of working, Allsteel challenged HOK Product Design to develop furniture concepts that provide flexibility and productivity within open-plan offices.

Christine Vandover and Bob Elliot, interior design principals in HOK’s New York office, led the design efforts, working with industrial designers from Designworks, a BMW Group Company and Allsteel’s team.

“We initially gathered research to explore what was missing in the workplace,” said Vandover. “This helped us focus on the most valuable ideas.”

A series of design workshops and collaborative web meetings yielded dozens of viable ideas, which were honed down to six finalists and eventually narrowed to two new products: Reflect and Clubhouse.

Reflect is a solo workspace that creates a personal refuge within the open-office environment. It features a comfortable seat and soft-back cushion enclosed by a tall upholstered shell that reduces distractions and signals that the occupant is unavailable. Its wide armrests provide a highly functional work surface. A swiveling base allows users to easily reconnect with the broader office environment with a simple turn.

The product earned Interior Design magazine’s 2016 Best of Year Award in the contract/lounge category.

“We have a Reflect in our New York office reception area and it’s amazing how many people gravitate to it,” Elliot said. “It’s usually the first seat that visitors sit in.”

The other new product—Clubhouse—provides a flexible retreat space for small groups to use in brainstorming, conducting a job interview or completing focused work. It addresses the common need in today’s workplaces for secluded space that doesn’t have to be formally reserved.

“With 15 different configurations, Clubhouse provides designers with great flexibility,” said Elliot. “You can choose various colors and fabrics as well as different configurations, sizes and heights. And you can select different tables or just create lounge space for a team meeting.”

The piece provides companies with flexibility to reconfigure their existing workplace without investing in a complete renovation. “Many companies may plan to move in three to five years, but they also want to make immediate, inexpensive changes to their current space,” Elliot said. “Clubhouse allows them to create more mobile meeting spaces. When they move, they can actually take the product with them because it’s a piece of furniture, not architecture.”

To bolster the business case for investing in Clubhouse, HOK’s team worked with a building contractor to estimate the cost of constructing a comparable space. Including drywall, lighting, sprinklers and real estate, the costs for that similar space were significantly higher.

Refined by Designers

Throughout the product development process, HOK’s global network of designers provided feedback and tested potential product ideas.

“Because Allsteel wanted to support and verify everything with research, we had road shows in Chicago, Toronto and Los Angeles,” Vandover said. “We shared concepts and sketches of the products we were considering, and Allsteel got to hear reactions straight from designers.”

As the team continued to narrow the field of potential product ideas, HOK hosted a series of WebEx meetings with designers from several offices and conducted online surveys.

“That kind of broad regional feedback from our designers was invaluable to Allsteel and Designworks,” said Elliot. “That is one of the benefits of hiring HOK.”

Beyond aesthetics, HOK helped the team understand how potential products would function in an actual workplace environment. “We brought them our expertise in how people work, including considerations such as ceiling heights, sprinklers and how lighting is integrated,” said Elliot.

HOK’s role included keeping the team focused so that the final products remained faithful to the original design brief.

Both Vandover and Elliot enjoyed the experience of helping to bring these new products to market.

“For HOK’s designers, there are many benefits to being involved in product design,” said Vandover. “You develop new connections and networking opportunities outside of your office. And you gain a better understanding of the manufacturing process, cost issues and competitive landscape.”